Protein-boosted foods are big business. First came the craze for protein bars and balls. But recently I began thinking we might have reached a new level of protein-mania when a new, protein-fortified bread arrived at our office.
So what’s with protein? And do we really need these fortified foods in our diet?
It’s important to know that getting enough protein allows us to build muscle – and muscle burns more kilojoules than fat. So, by eating enough protein as well as doing exercise that builds muscle tone, we can boost our metabolism.
Protein helps control our weight in another way, too. Meals and snacks containing protein trigger that feeling of being pleasantly satisfied and full.
So how much protein should we be having? Well, this is where it gets interesting: According to the latest National Health Survey, the average Australian is already eating almost double the protein that our body needs.
What tends to happen, though, is we eat protein mainly at dinner where the piece of meat, chicken or fish on your plate tends to be much larger than the palm-sized serving that dietitians recommend.
But during the day, we tend to graze on foods with no protein – think bread and sugary snacks.
So yes, having protein at breakfast, lunch, as well as in your snacks can make a difference to your level of hunger. But what is important to note is that we already have terrific high-protein foods and snacks available, without resorting to something that comes in a plastic wrap: think a wedge of cheese, a handful of nuts, a fruit smoothie with reduced-fat milk, or a tub of reduced-fat yoghurt.
Just as highly processed carbs aren’t good choices, it’s important to remember that a protein-boosted snack has often been made with highly refined protein, so you’re missing out on the additional nutrients wrapped into a natural protein-rich food, like an egg for example.
So, I don’t want protein in my bread, instead I’ll put natural peanut butter or cheese on my bread. And as a snack, I’ve got a hard-boiled egg in my lunchbox and a tub of yoghurt I can top with my favourite fruit. It’s affordable, it’s real food. And it’s really satisfying.
You’ll find more on protein and healthy snack ideas in the October issue of Healthy Food Guide magazine.